With eight contested judicial races on the November 4 election ballot in King County, I thought it would be helpful to use this space to review the four different services that the King County Bar Association makes available to voters who are called on to choose judicial candidates. All the information I'm reviewing below can be found online at www.kcba.org/judicialelections.
First, a note about the actual number of positions on the ballot. A careful observer will see that there are 39 separate judicial offices listed on the King County ballot - 32 if you live outside Seattle. These range from Seattle Municipal Court to Washington Supreme Court positions. Eighty percent of the incumbent judges and justices are running unopposed. But KCBA's focus is on the eight contested races.
One of the first resources the bar makes available is our quadrennial judicial officer survey, also known as the "bar poll." The survey is sent to all attorneys who have had appearances before incumbent judges sitting on the level of court currently being surveyed. In January of this year, KCBA released the results of its survey for courts of limited jurisdiction: municipal and county district courts.
As I noted in a column last November, KCBA has conducted these surveys for 65 years, and they are relied on by judges and attorneys to provide valuable insights into the work of our judges. But it is important to remind ourselves not to confuse this survey with any rigorous, scientific, opinion-gathering process. It reflects the opinions, writ large, of those attorneys who choose to express them. The scuttlebutt of the courthouse. Nothing more, nothing less. That said, these opinions still have value, especially when considered alongside the other resources described below.
The second resource is our judicial candidate evaluation rating. Like the bar poll, these ratings have been issued for decades by the bar. They differ from the survey, though, since they reflect not just attorney responses to a questionnaire, but actual interviews of the candidate and dozens of attorney and judge references provided by the candidate.
An overall committee of 85 is trained in our process and a minimum of 12 people serve on a panel that rates a judicial candidate. For the November election, seven individuals (a mix of incumbents and challengers) received our highest rating of "exceptionally well qualified" and three more were rated "well qualified." Two candidates were rated "not qualified" for the offices they are seeking.
The final four candidates are listed on our website as "refused to cooperate." While our confidentiality rules don't permit me to go into more detail on circumstances related to the individuals, I am able to share that this rating is generally given when a candidate fails to respond to KCBA's request for information about their qualifications and/or will not meet with our committee to answer questions.
The third service the bar offers during election seasons is candidate forums, where we host a question-and-answer forum open to the public so candidates can appear next to each other and have an opportunity to challenge answers by their opponents. As the Bar Bulletin goes to press, KCBA is scheduled to host these on September 29 and 30; our plan is to make these available online for later viewing before the election at the webpage mentioned above.
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